Monday, 2 November 2009

Sterling Crispin

Sterling Crispin is an artist living in Denver, Colorado. Using the Buddhist belief of the Sunyata as a common base for his output he creates installations, video loops and illustrations that focus on the infinite and unknown. Crispin also recently worked with musician Picture Plane to create the music video 'Gothic Star'. Interview after the jump

-Circles and symmetrical shapes seem to be key elements in you work, what fascinates you about these forms?

I'm interested in the ancient, primal and infinite feeling of geometry. It exists outside of time and space. It's an underlying invisible force making itself visible through interaction with matter.

I think that when you encounter a highly symmetrical form like a seashell or a crystal it can be a profound because it's this underlying force that's way beyond you suddenly saying "Hello". It's like pulling the wrapping paper off of a box that contains the infinite. You only get to see a very small slice of it, and you'll never unwrap it all, but what you do see allows you to infer what you cannot see.

And so I've been imagining a lot of the art that I've been making recently as tools for prodding into the void.

I also tend to imagine geometric forms as living entities or figures. When say "sphere" to someone they visualize a beach ball or spherical object, or they imagine just the idea of a sphere without any particular form. The thought of a shape just floating out in space somewhere that doesn't consist of anything is funny and interesting to me. That somewhere in some universe or dimension there is a realm of perfectly formed triangles or spheres sort of loitering about or doing whatever spheres do.

I like the idea that if a circle had a life / soul / consciousness, each time you drew a circle on a sheet of paper, you would be channelling the spirit of the ancient "one true circle" out there somewhere rather than creating a new life for each circle. And to clarify I'm more interested in the idea that a perfect shape could be a living or maybe conscious thing than in the idea of a perfect shape in general.

I'm also really interested in the idea of visible and invisible things, making the invisible visible and vice versa, perception really.

Crystal Field

-Digital images and videos seem to be another prominent medium that you work with, do you find yourself being able to do more on a computer or is it more aesthetic than that?

Well there's an appropriate time and place for everything, and I'm interested in all of it. Honestly If I had a bigger budget I know my work would look very different. I generally dream very big and then have to compromise. I consider all of the work I've done so far to be a maquette or sketch for something else I'm trying to get at.

So right now I'm driven to working digitally because I can execute my ideas quickly and its relatively cheap. There's an upfront cost obviously but pressing File > New is next to free.

Although that's not to say I'm not interested in computing. I'm very interested in emerging technology and theories of what the future will bring. Computers are really powerful tools, I think society as a whole is just slowly waking up to the potential of the technology we are developing. We are accelerating very quickly up the curve. I was born ten years after the release of the first home computer and I think that in another 50 years we may be faced with a computer based intelligence that surpasses every human mind on the planet combined. Or entirely synthetic or laboratory produced humans. How can anyone not be interested in that?

Prehistory Series

-Your illustrations, especially the Emergent Organic Form series (top of page) has some amazing detail to them, what are the processes like for creating such images and what influenced you in making them?

I draw them with fine point pens into a sketchbook, usually while traveling on the public transportation system in Denver. I've been using 005 Microns but I have been thinking of trying other pens, the tips are too fragile.

After they are drawn I photograph them and digitally edit them to become bilaterally symmetrical. I want to print them out in a limited series at a 16x20 inches with some high quality digital printer and mount them somehow but I'm too financially challenged to realize the series in any meaningful way right now.

Picture Plane Gothstar

-You've also directed a music video for Picture Plane, how did that collaboration come about and what do you think to the outcome?

Well Travis and I went to art school together and after graduating were both accepted into RedLine where we shared a studio in Denver for a while. We've been friends for a while and have a few shared interests and influences.

He asked me to produce a video for an album he was going to release, we threw a few ideas around and I put together a sort of video sketch. We had the video shoot afterward that was intentionally free form and sort of haphazard. I wanted it to feel like recovered footage from some sort of Stevie Nicks cult in the near past that had tried to capture or summon her spirit. Yet at the same time feel fun and light hearted and keep the ethereal and textural things going on in the song.

Overall it was a lot of fun and I think I'll probably be doing more projects like that in the future.

-Do you think you'll be doing more work with video?

It's hard for me to imagine losing an interest in video, maybe if I live long enough to see true virtual reality or the technological singularity I won't care much for video anymore. But its hard to say, who knows.

Water Particle

-I'm always in interested in different cities and the people who live in them, what's Denver like as hometown? I read an interview with Picture Plane and the interviewers perception of Denver seemed to be you spend all day Skiing, only stopping to watch The Denver Broncos occasionally, are things really that great?

I'm sure that there are people out there doing just that, but that's not the average lifestyle here. Actually I had to check and Coloradans mean income is among the highest in the country and the poverty rate isn't too bad, so maybe I'm wrong. There's a decent public transportation system here and there's a lot of good art in town. Denver is really supportive of the arts, I wish there was more support but it's pretty good. And of course the sky, mountains and land is just beautiful here. I just wish there wasn't so much suburban sprawl.

Gateway - 2009 Installation

What do people think of when they think of Denver? I think people perceive Denver as a cow town, they think of John Denver, the Denver Omelet, skiing and mountain men?

I actually grew up in Maui, then spent a few years in Pittsburgh and moved to Denver in 2005. I'm still acclimating to seasonal weather and I may never get used to it.

-You also do graphic design work as well, is it hard to make a living solely as an artist then?

Well I think graphic design is art, but yeah the term "starving artist" didn't come out of the blue, its tough.

Primordial Figure Series

-What projects do you have planned for the rest of the year and 2010?

I'm currently working with the Gates Planetarium here in Denver developing content for their full immersion dome as part of an arts and science collaboration between some local colleges and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I'm really excited about that project right now.

I'd really like to get my hands on some rapid prototyping machines, or get into industrial fabrication, injection moulded plastics, large scale digital photographs and make a few more light boxes

Also I want to break into public art, and do whatever I can to avoid a 'day job'.

Sterling Crispin can be found online at